Occupation: Producer, keyboardist/synthesizer player, improviser, performer
Current release: Danalogue's collaborative LP with Alabaster DePlume, I Was Not Sleeping, was released in late 2020 and is available via Total Refreshment Centre. Dopamine, the new album of his band Soccer96 and the follow-up to 2018's Rewind, has been announced for September. Also, Channel The Spirits, the debut full-length of The Comet is Coming, which Danalogue speaks about in this interview, has been repressed on vinyl and re-issued on CD as an extended deluxe edition. Get it here.
Recommendations: Book - The ‘Three Body Problem’ Trilogy by Liu Cixin Music - Bouganvillea's Shallow Lobe (Premier Desire) by Monopoly Child Star Searchers
If you enjoyed this interview with Danalogue and would like to find out more about his work, the best places are the facebook profiles of his projects Soccer96 (here) and The Comet is Coming (here). There is also a Danalogue Instagram page.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I wrote my first piece of music for piano and saxophone when I was 15 and performed it at a school concert, I remember being able to express myself much more honestly with music than I could with words.
I befriended a guy at school who was equally passionate about music, we spent every lunchtime jamming on an upright piano in a rehearsal room, eventually we had a few regular kids who used to sit in there to listen. This guy’s Dad was a musician, and let us record on his gear, which really cut my teeth between 16-19 years old. He had a bunch of equipment, Akai sampler, an early DAW called Cakewalk, drum kit, he was very encouraging and I can still remember pieces of advice he gave us.
I can vividly recollect the magic of hearing back the sounds you just recorded through the speakers, like wow! And then trying new takes with different feels, adjusted emphasis, new sounds and writing as you went along. It is a composition process I still use today, where the studio itself is like an instrument, and tracks are built as part of an exploratory process.
At that time I was heavily into music from the late 60s and early 70s. I really loved Stevie Wonder. His delivery, emotion, songwriting, and that fact he played everything on his records, it really opened the door for me to make tracks from the ground up. Music was a beautiful mystery, how can it be that you hit play on a track and your whole body and mind changes? This is magic surely?
Also as a young boy around 4 years old I fell in love with the sound of Diana Ross’ voice, to me it was like being personally sung to by an angel. We heard a lot of Motown on the radio in the car. I got obsessed by James Taylor singing on the roof in Sesame Street. I just had a really strong attraction to music, I lived and breathed it, my family all recognised this. It was like my sanctuary, a space to go where everything was all right.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I feel like so many artists have formed part of my musical DNA. Early days I was obsessed with heavy rock music and psychedelic rock music from the late 60s and early 70s. I actually loved guitar bands, and often found when synths were involved in that context they often sounded a bit wacky or novelty. I think that inspired me to want to make the synthesiser sound cool in a band setting, obviously it had its place in electronic music, but I was hearing riffs and bass lines with live drums.
I think the key moment for me was procuring a Roland SH-09 mono synthesiser when I was 18. Because I had never seen or heard anyone playing one at that time, it was a completely fresh sound. It had so many parameters to attenuate the notes coming out of the keyboard, I felt like I could make a new sound that was my own. Piano, or Rhodes, or Organ were keyboard sounds that were so deeply connected to specific genres or players, but the SH-09 made me feel like I could make a brand new sonic identity.
A few years later I picked up a Juno-60. Because it was made by the same company around the same time as the SH-09, it had an almost identical set of faders and knobs, but it was also polyphonic, meaning I could now play chords! I had no idea it was a famous synth, and at the time they were pretty cheap too. With these two synths, I felt a strong resonance, and it became an inseparable marriage. I still use the same two synths today to make my records and play live with The Comet is Coming and Soccer96. For me, it was developing a language and a dexterity across all the switches and dials on the control panel that took me into a new dimension.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Identity is a strange concept as humans are a lot like a whirlpool in a body of water, you can point at the whirlpool and identify it, but the water running through it is always different. It’s hard to pin down your own identity.
I try to make music in a subconscious way, so rather than sit down to ‘write music’ I want to create moments where I can be as present and open as possible to hear the music in my head and just re-create what I hear. I found when I was younger playing in a lot of bands, egos could get in the way, some players just wanted to get their own way whether it was good for the music or not. So I naturally found myself going in the other direction, making music with people where there’s little or no discussion, and everybody is free to express themselves to the maximum they can. You just pick the right players who will hopefully share this wavelength. So I guess that comes from my perspective on life, a distrust of ‘leaders’ and what their motives are, and a love of communal cooperation, trust and self organisation. You could call it Anarchy perhaps.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main challenges used to be simply carving out the time. I worked a lot of jobs, most days in the week and was constantly on the edge of being broke. Interestingly though, that gave me a massive amount of frustration, with how capitalism was structured, and how living ‘hand to mouth’ hindered the brain’s ability to think creatively. That axe to grind led directly into the passion and urgency of my music making, a track like ‘Call To Arms’ on the first Soccer96 LP was an attempt to encapsulate that energy and rage to encourage myself to keep going and do what I felt I was born to do, deluded or otherwise: make music.
Ten years later once I could actually make a living from music, I was surprised that found it difficult for a period - not having that chip on my shoulder, which had previously propelled me into action. I had to turn to other influences to inspire me. I developed an interest in transcendental practices and methods of ritual. I became more into the idea of a unifying communal energy created at concerts, and how in western cultures, largely devoid of organised spirituality in the wake of abandoning monotheistic religions, it was these concerts that were able to bring together huge groups of people from all walks of life and transcend to another dimension. It is a healing experience, and drove an even greater passion and meaning behind what it was to make music.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started out recording albums just with the most basic set up, a second hand laptop and the cheapest audio interface. Some music that I’m still so proud of was made with that very basic level of equipment.
I first recorded to tape with Soccer96 at a studio in Brighton with Joe Watson who plays keyboards with Stereolab. This changed everything. We’d been picked up by an ecstatic fan after our third gig, and he borrowed a bunch of cash to put us in that studio for two days. That situation was like something out of a film, I still can’t really believe it happened.
After Betamax and I discovered the magic of tape, there was no going back. A lot of people talk about the sound of tape, and certainly the tape compression and the fact sound is being translated into physical magnetic information has a magic. For me it is also about process: Tape is finite. You can’t just leave it running indefinitely like a computer. So it sort of bottles this temporal energy of a moment in time. You are aware while you are recording that there is this precious tape spinning round.
In using tape you could also be tapping into what Rupert Sheldrake has dubbed ‘Morphic Resonance’, a charming idea. Very simply put it its like a cloud of consciousness where all experience is stored to aid evolution. By re-enacting the similar processes of decades of recordings, you are following in those hallowed footsteps the same way a religious person might on a pilgrimage. The road is sometimes slow, but it might be on the tea break to clean the tape heads that you have the Eureka moment.
Once we have the original material recorded, I transition to a computer and set about the production phase, which is hybrid, using a lot of old outboard gear but not shying away from some more modern touches here and there.
In terms of instruments, as I mentioned I have almost exclusively played Roland SH-09 and Juno-60 my whole life, but in recent times have added a Roland Jupiter-4 and VP-330 Vocoder. They are all from the same few years of Roland production, late 70s/early 80s, I’m obsessed with the sound of this family of synths and love how they were built together.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
All the way along my journey, I have been offered advice from well meaning people, slack-jawed as I rock through airports carrying a 23KG Juno, and my SH-09. There are many technologies that could make my life easier, and lighter, and cheaper! Often times people will try to enlighten me about how I could own all of the synths ever made, through software on a laptop, and tour with all of this in a backpack. They would be less liable to breaking too.
This I have doggedly avoided for some reason, perhaps a belligerent attitude in some ways that drives me to want to use the real thing over and above any other concern. My synths are instruments. They were designed for one thing and one thing only, making music! There is something strange to me in using a laptop on stage, it's what I do all my administration and emails on. I don’t judge anyone who uses a laptop as an instrument, there is absolutely incredible music made by artists that way. It just doesn’t turn me on, I can’t get used to the idea of rocking out with a mouse pad!
That has made me question myself, as there are so many possibilities with laptop and soft synth performance that are unavailable to me. So am I restricting my sonic palette for an ideology? Perhaps. But I also love my limitation and believe that it helps my creativity rather than hindering it. I have my synths and my sound, now I can move on from that and think about other concerns like the intentionality of my compositions, or how to make the filthiest sounding bass sound possible with the synth I have!
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love to jam. It’s like having a wordless conversation. Your minds and souls are connected via soundwaves. You can express many things implicitly, and transmit messages to one another, create rapport, listen and consider what you can add to the sonic picture. Through jamming, especially after several hours, you will find some music that you have never thought of making with your conscious mind, making something new out of nothing.
Recently during lock down we collaborated remotely with a great singer, keyboardist and producer in San Francisco called Salami Rose Joe Louis, she has sung on a few new Soccer96 tracks, and we played on a couple of her tracks too, which is incredible seeing as we could never have travelled to San Francisco during this time. It’s been an awesome experience. The internet makes this all very possible and seamless.